Bedtime Stories: August 2021

  • August 25, 2021

What do book lovers have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked one of them, and here’s what she said.

Bedtime Stories: August 2021

Raima Larter:

When it comes to reading and the pandemic, I have noticed there are two types of people: those who read voraciously for months, finishing book after book, and those who found it difficult to focus long enough to read anything more than a tweet or newspaper headline. I am in the latter group, so when I was asked to write this piece about what I’m reading now, I panicked a little.

After looking through my TBR pile, though, I realize I have actually managed to read a few things. Story collections are definitely easier in these pandemic days, and one that I read all the way through a couple months ago was Last Known Position by Jim Mathews. The book has been out for a few years and won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction in 2008. This collection of extremely creative stories ranges from funny to sad and covers a whole array of weird scenarios I would never dream up.

I also reread Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun and The Martian Chronicles, both classic sci-fi, a genre which has always lent itself to the short-story form. A lot of people know of Bradbury only through his novel Fahrenheit 451, but he was really a master short-story writer. His poetic prose had a huge influence on me when I first read these stories as a teenager, and I can directly trace the path from my encounter with these books to becoming a published author decades later. I was surprised how much I remembered of his stories; this, it seems to me, is the very definition of a classic.

My early interest in science fiction had a hugely formative influence on me. I went from reading sci-fi to reading actual science and eventually became a scientist myself. In recent years, as I’ve devoted more of my time to writing fiction, I’ve gone back to reading that genre, largely as a way to see what people are publishing these days.

Since the last time I’d read much sci-fi was in the 1970s, I have more than a few books to get caught up on. I’d have to write a whole other column to list all the authors I’ve discovered or re-discovered. In addition to catching up with books by Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, I discovered new-to-me sci-fi authors such as Sheri S. Tepper, author of Grass and many other novels, and Emily St. John Mandel. I read Mandel’s Station Eleven, a story about a catastrophic pandemic, about a year before covid-19 hit and thought about it dozens of times over the last year and a half.

Another new-to-me author I discovered right before the pandemic is Adrian Tchaikovsky. His Children of Time is a fantastic example of what I like about science fiction: big ideas and an exciting plot. This story addresses the question of what it means to be a person, even if that “person” is a spider; the urge toward worship and religious interpretation of reality; the difficulty of communicating when the two mechanisms of “speaking” are entirely different; and on and on. Its sequel, Children of Ruin, is now out, and I’m looking forward to starting it when and if I can read full books again.

I’m actually attempting to read a novel, my first in well over a year. Rebecca Johns’ Icebergs pulled me right in, thrusting me into a story about a plane crash that happens on page one. I couldn’t put it down and am about halfway through this brilliantly written book. I’m hoping this means my reading drought is over — or will be if we ever get out of this pandemic.

Before moving to the Washington, DC, area, Raima Larter was a chemistry professor in Indiana who secretly wrote fiction and poetry and tucked it away in drawers. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle, Chantwood Magazine, Cleaver, BULL, Linden Avenue, Another Chicago Magazine, and other publications. Her two novels, Fearless and Belle o' the Waters, were published in 2019, and her nonfiction popular-science book, Spiritual Insights from the New Science: Complex Systems and Life, was published in May of this year.

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